Saturday, October 25, 2014

2014 Astronomy Festival at Great Basin National Park

 In September Great Basin National Park held its annual Astronomy Festival. We went up Thursday evening for the talent show. It's always so much fun to see what talent people have lurking.

Desert Boy was enthralled.

Soon it was our turn. I had volunteered to play Home on the Range on the accordion as a sing-along. Fortunately the kids and a friend came up with me and helped lead the crowd. I don't play the accordion very much, so I had to practice quite a long time to make it sound decent. (Hopefully it sounded decent!). Thanks to Clint who snapped this photo of us.

When it was over, we quickly departed the outdoor stage, fortunately to applause and not to boos.

We let the more talented take over, like Bryan on guitar and Isaac on drums.

When it was time for a guitar trio, the kids couldn't resist dancing. It was really cute.

Aileen shared her sweet voice with us. It is the voice of an angel.

Carolyn's violin piece was way too short, I wanted to hear more!

It was a good crowd. Afterwards, we went down to the telescopes so the kids could earn their Junior Astronomer certificates--and most important to them, a Milky Way candy bar.  We hope as they get older we'll be able to stay longer and see even more things through the telescopes.

Great Basin National Park's last astronomy program for the season is tonight, Saturday October 25 at 6 pm. The big advantage of the early start time is that you can go to bed early too!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Our First Egg…After 12 Chickens and 7 Months

Some good news today, after yesterday's post. I was cleaning the chicken coop when I noticed a real egg! I had gotten so used to the golf ball in there that it took me a moment to realize what I was seeing. I bellowed (yep, it was more than a yell!) for the kids to come so they could see for themselves. 

Then I had them pose with the egg.


We found another one in the run, but I suspected it was from the day before when they were locked up in it all day. That egg unfortunately didn't quite make it to the refrigerator due to an itsy bitsy fall. I guess we could call it the Humpty Dumpty egg. My reply to the wail of "I dropped the egg and it's cracked" was "Make sure you clean it all up." I'm a little tired of messes lately!

I had noticed that the second hen had a more filled out comb and wattle, and I think she's the layer. I think the other one still hasn't figured out what to do. Maybe someday. It's only taken 12 chickens and 7 months to get our first egg.

The rooster is so pretty. He crows every day, whether it's morning or not.


The rest of the family didn't seem that interested in actually eating the egg, so I did. It was delicious! Now we will be looking for our egg every afternoon (she lays between 2:30 and 4:30 right now).

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Missing Planets

I had noticed that some of the planets along the road needed some TLC, so on my run on Sunday I took some baling wire and helped secure planets and their name signs. I made it up to Jupiter, but that was as far as I got (I haven't been running much lately, so a three-mile long run is now a longish run for me!).

On Monday I drove up the road and admired the planets hanging neatly: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres (a dwarf planet in the asteroid belt), Jupiter. But where was Saturn? I couldn't find Uranus or Neptune. And Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris (dwarf planets) were all missing too. What was going on?

Yesterday I stopped and looked for them. I found Eris and rehung it, but all the other planets are missing. What could have happened to six planets/dwarf planets? There was no sign of animals disturbing them or the wind blowing them down (it's done that before, and they don't go far). So my best guess is that someone took them down.

Why would someone take down six planets? My hope is that maybe they just wanted to improve them, maybe paint the signs with glow-in-the-dark paint. (But then why didn't they take them all?)
Or is someone trying to put up their own to-scale solar system and they liked this one so much they just couldn't resist? I also thought of some other reasons that someone might have taken six planets, but I hope people aren't that mean.

I don't know where the planets went. They are pretty far out there in the solar system. That was one of the cool things about seeing them on the road, is that you had to keep waiting and waiting to get to the more distant planets. It really made me internalize what a big place our solar system is. I asked an astronomer at last year's Astronomy Festival what would be at the end of the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive. He said we would still be in the Oort Cloud, a massive area at the edge of the solar system where comets form. Wow. I am still processing that, it is so far out!

Here's the post about how we put up the initial planets, little facts about them, and the spacing, so if anyone wants to replace them, you know where to put them! Our Little Solar System

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Collecting Snake Skins

 It had been a little while since I had last been out to the sinkhole, so I decided it was time for a visit. It's late enough in the season that the snakes should be hibernating and it's a good time to look for snake skins that they've molted. I still have not figured out what to do with snake skins, but the kids sure love collecting them. So after piano practice one afternoon I loaded up Desert Boy and a couple of his friends and we were off.

 The August monsoonal rains have left us with an amazing amount of globemallows blooming out on the desert. In some places we see more than in the spring.

The kids scrambled down to the bottom, sometimes sliding. (Sorry, moms, if their pants are a little extra worn!)

Success! Snake skins were all over. The kids wanted the longest one and ones with heads.

It was so easy to find them that they soon each had several.

We couldn't stay too long, but they each had more than they could use.

I found a dead rattlesnake nearby. I'm not sure what killed it, but it looked fairly fresh.

It was a fun trip, and nice to check out a favorite spot. Plus I always enjoy an excuse to be outside and get some fresh air.
What fun local outdoor spot have you visited lately?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Our Epic Zion Adventure--Birch Hollow Canyon

 My brother Ed called me up one Tuesday and told me that he and his girlfriend Christina were flying into Las Vegas on Saturday. Did we want to meet in Death Valley or Zion? I told him Zion would be great, we love going there and we could go canyoneering. He agreed, and then it was time to decide where we could go canyoneering. I decided Birch Hollow Canyon would be a good spot. Just outside the park, it didn't require a permit, was 4-6 hours long according to the beta, had a number of fun rappels, but none too long, and it was dry. That was good considering it was mid-October and chilly. On Thursday I heard from a caving friend, Rodney, that he would be down there with his girlfriend. I welcomed the extra rope expertise. So on Sunday morning we met up at the side of the road to begin our journey.

 I knew that this was a popular canyon and expected to see quite a few people. We saw a guide group start ahead of us with some clients. After we had all our gear ready, we started out about 10 am from the trailhead, having fun skirting the obstacles.

An old ATV ramp was one of the memorable parts of the approach.

We even found a couple caves on the way, and Desert Boy checked one out. He reported back that it had a lot of mud and flies.
Photo courtesy of Ed
After about an hour of hiking, we reached the first rappel, the longest, at about 120 ft. I had bought a new 200 ft canyoneering rope the day before and we also had 100 ft of caving rope. I tied the ropes together, and secured the canyoneering rope with a releasable anchor as only two of our group were comfortable with rappelling. I had my caving friend Rodney go down first, as he has tons of rappelling experience. From the bottom he could bottom belay everyone and make sure they got down safely. I lowered Desert Boy from the top. We decided Desert Girl should go down double with her uncle.

Photo courtesy of Christina

I was a little nervous about getting the anchor right for pulling. I'm used to cave anchoring, where we go down and then back up the same rope. For canyoneering, you rig so that you go down the rope, then pull the rope, and then continue down the canyon. Since this rappel was longer than just one rope, I had to rig it so we could pull the knotted side after I had rappelled down the unknotted side. It all worked out fine.

Then we had a little hike and got to our next rappel. Another group was there, having approached from another route. We ate some lunch while they put their dog into a rope bag for the rappel. Then it was our turn. This rappel was about 80 feet.

Then we had some fun in the canyon, as the walls narrowed and we had to scramble down obstacles.


Photo courtesy of Ed 

It wasn't too long until we got to our next rappel, about 20 feet. It was time for Desert Boy to learn how to rappel. He was very excited. We explained how to rappel and that if he had any trouble he just needed to call out and his bottom belay would stop him. We all got down relatively quickly and were feeling comfortable with rappelling.

Desert Boy found a scorpion at the bottom of the drop.
Photo courtesy of Ed
Desert Girl had a blast chilling between rappels.
Photo courtesy of Ed
The canyon opened up a bit and we enjoyed some fall colors.
Photo courtesy of Ed
A little bit farther was the rappel I remembered most: an 80-foot drop into a fluted canyon. Rodney led the way.
Photo courtesy of Ed
I lowered both kids down this beautiful drop. Desert Boy was pretty sure he could rappel it, and now I am sure he could. But better safe than sorry!
Photo courtesy of Ed
 After I came down, the kids helped Uncle Ed pull the rope.

Another drop waited just around the corner. And then another. And another. Even though I had been to this canyon in 2008, I had forgotten there were so many rappels!

Photo courtesy of Ed
Photo courtesy of Ed

Photo courtesy of Ed
It was clear we wouldn't be back to the second vehicle by 4 pm (a six-hour trip), as it was already past that time and we were still in the rappelling part of the canyon and had a two-hour hike back once we finished. We ate more snacks to keep our energy levels up.

Then we reached the last two rappels, with a view of a chockstone wedged into the canyon above us. It was spectacular. And a place you really wouldn't want to be in a flash flood.

After the last rappel (we had lost count, but there were probably 10-11 total), we had a very short walk out to Orderville Canyon. The last time I did this canyon we exited down canyon and into the Narrows, but we wanted the short version this time, so we headed up canyon. The short version was still long, and we ended up walking out with our headlamps on.
Photo courtesy of Ed
It was certainly an epic adventure. The kids fell asleep on the short ride back to camp, but then woke up and ate heartily. They were great troopers, taking the new experience in stride. We hiked close to 6 miles with at least a 1,000 ft elevation change, and they both did fine.

My tips for a successful canyoneering trip:
1. Watch the weather--it's not worth it to get trapped in a flash flood, too many people have died that way
2. Go with someone who knows how to canyoneer. It's better if you have a couple experienced people in the group. Canyoneering takes specialized techniques, and once you pull your first rope, you are committed. Guiding services are available if you're new to the sport. Here's an article about going with Zion Adventure Company in this same canyon (and they also took longer than 4-6 hours, so that made me feel better!)
3. Have lots of snacks (especially if you have kids with you)
4. Have a surface contact--Rodney's girlfriend knew where we were and would contact authorities if we weren't back by a certain time; we had absolutely no cell service, so don't rely on that
5. Wear appropriate clothing for the canyon--some are very, very wet and cold, easy to get hypothermia
6. Have fun! Even though it took us longer than we anticipated, we still had a super time, and as we progressed down the canyon, we became a stronger team.

I've already been checking out other possible canyons, although I think the next one with the kids will be a shorter one.
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